Last week, I shared the opener to an ongoing series of blog posts on an important topic to me: Attention Deficit Disorder. (That first post really focused on sharing my story, which was important to me for a number of reasons.) I wrote about my motivations, which include sharing what’s worked for me in dealing with my own journey with ADD, particularly in a business setting.
This really kicks off that effort. I’ll begin with the thing that’s been hardest for me forever: task management and prioritization.
This is hard for everyone. For someone with ADD, though, it can be crippling. Together, deciding what needs to get done, when to do it and who should be responsible form the single most important element of my ADD management. And, while I’m writing from my own point of view, I hope this content can be helpful to anyone dealing with a complicated and busy work environment. (So even if you don’t lose your keys every morning or need constant reminding to take your dry cleaning in, you should totally still read this.)
By design, WorkBook6 is vulnerable to distraction. We represent the interests of dozens of companies. These companies pay us to keep them moving forward, and there’s always important work to be done. Deciding which tasks to take on, and for whom, is informed by a fluid field of context. As you might expect, keeping this all straight requires near-constant stewardship and sound decision-making. The process involves extensive communication with our team, our clients and our prospects.
Over time, I’ve come to understand what works best for me and establish a format that helps me to maintain progress across all facets of the business. My system is neither elegant nor complicated – with so many agendas in play, and with each having plenty of subtasks, I’ve learned that maintaining forward momentum demands simplicity. My task management strategy is thus, like, super-straightforward.
Before I do anything else, I run all new tasks through the same four questions:
- Should I (or we) do this at all? If this sounds simple, I’d challenge you to look back on the last 30 days of your own activity. Did you commit time and resources (either yours or your team’s) to tasks that didn’t have a measurably positive impact? What did you learn from that?
- What type of task is this? Is it revenue-impacting? Is it operational? Personal?
- Does this need to happen now, or later? Sound obvious? It’s not. Again, look back on the last 30 days. Have you committed yours or your team’s time to the completion of a task that, while useful, wasn’t timely? Did you do things prematurely? Again, what can you take from that experience?
- Should I do this myself, or would someone else be better? This one speaks to effective management. I’m frequently guilty of taking on too much, myself. Asking this question helps me recruit resources. My logic is simple: will this move forward more efficiently in my hands, or someone else’s? If it’s important that it gets done, the single most respectful thing I can do is be honest about who should carry it forward.
Once I’ve run my tasks through these questions, I put them where I can clearly see them, and organize them based on the conclusions I’ve drawn for them. My process is as follows:
- I write each task down on a post-it note (I prefer the Miami Collection from Post-It in 4” x 4”). I separate these by task type. Revenue-impacting tasks are written down on a green note; operational matters are always orange. Personal gets yellow.
- Next, I make two preliminary piles: one for the stuff that doesn’t need to happen right away and another for those tasks which demand immediate attention.
- I then separate each pile into two smaller ones (so I end up with four): one pile is for tasks that are best handled by someone else; the other is for tasks I’ll take personal accountability for completing.
- I stick the tasks on a four-quadrant grid which takes up on the southern wall of my office. This is my ‘big board.’ ‘Now’ and ‘Not Now’ form the x-axis; the y-axis contains the labels ‘Me’ and ‘Not Me’. To the left, I keep a little ‘Done’ pile. (This is recent – I used to throw the finished tasks away, but seeing a pile of completed tasks makes me feel good.) The whole setup ends up looking like this:
I follow some simple rules for distribution. I know that if I take on too much, personally, the system breaks down. So, the ‘Me’ tasks should never make up more than half of what the ‘Not Me’ ones. My thinking around timing is similar. If I try to do everything right now, the effect is the opposite – nothing gets done. So, I never let the ‘Now’ tasks make up more than half of the ‘Not Now’ items. This system allows me to make progress on what’s most urgent, and then re-prioritize items as I work through the backlog.
Another thing I’ve learned: when transparent, this process doesn’t only help me – it also provides a venue for building consensus. I practice transparency around this entire system, both internally and externally. I’m honest with our team and I ask for their guidance. I do the same with our clients. I ask them to help me prioritize the tasks we’re discussing. If a client sees a particular partnership as being critical, now, I agree to make that a priority. If I don’t think I’m the right person to complete the task, I share this as well. And if I get pushback on this, we discuss it openly. Sometimes I’m wrong. Other times, the instinct to delegate/collaborate is the right move. In either case, I’m grateful for the opportunity to land on the right direction, together.
This is my system. It’s not foolproof, but I’ve found that it works really well for me. Process wonks may view this as entirely too elementary. Many will point out that their business is way too complicated to fit into four quadrants, or that ‘not now’ is far too general a characterization. Right on, folks – do you. I’m half-crazy and what I do is not for everyone. But if you’re feeling overwhelmed, or scattered, you might want to try this out for a few weeks. If you do try this, let me know how it works out. I’d love to hear from you.
Thanks as always for reading. I hope this helps some folks!